JU breaks ground on College of Health Sciences building

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Current JU Nursing students help out with groundbreaking of the new $8 million College of Health Sciences building at Jacksonville University on Monday, June 3, 2013.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - More space, better facilities, state-of-the-art technology, the most well-prepared health care graduates and even stronger partnerships with the medical community were key highlights touted as Jacksonville University broke ground Monday on its new $8 million College of Health Sciences building.

"This is a great day for JU and for Jacksonville as we move ahead on our priority to be a leader in health care education in this community," JU President Tim Cost told onlookers assembled at the new building's location between the Lazzara Health Sciences Center and Davis College of Business. "This new building will allow our nursing, speech pathology, orthodontics and future programs to have the critical space they need."

JU has made the two-story, 30,000-square-foot structure a centerpiece of its bold $85 million ASPIRE comprehensive campaign, with the new building expected to open by August 2014. It is part of a larger, $20 million phased plan to expand the College of Health Science's facilities, programs, equipment and faculty to meet growing demand.

Cost announced Monday that funding for the building has been secured, and a contractor will be named soon. He praised the foresight and generosity of major donors Jack and Beverly Keigwin, Greg and Denise Nelson and Matt and Alexis Kane. Cost also announced that ASPIRE overall has raised more than $50 million toward its goals.

The new building will have advanced technology, dedicated classrooms, faculty and staff offices, meeting rooms, a multidisciplinary simulation learning center, a computer laboratory and more. It will use green technology and offer the latest in active learning environments, with classrooms designed to be reconfigurable for the most effective, engaging space and teaching styles.

"Today marks concrete evidence of JU's commitment to realize the vision of the College of Health Sciences," said college Dean Judith Erickson. "Our goal is to be the premiere provider of leading-edge health education in the region. We are creating the programs to meet the needs of our health care partners. Changing demographics and the new health care law mean our students will be prepared for the significant challenges that lie ahead."

JU's current health sciences facilities, in Lazzara and in temporary spaces, are bursting at the seams as demand for medical professionals accelerates locally and nationally. For example, student visits to its simulation labs have jumped four-fold since 2008, to more than 1,200. Between the 2007-08 and 2011-12 academic school years, more than 1,700 students obtained their BSN from JU, and another 106 received their MSN. In addition, JU's orthodontics program is the largest in the nation, graduating 15 students per year and treating thousands of patients annually at very low cost.

About 1,600 students are now enrolled in the College of Health Sciences. With Nursing and Exercise Science program increases, and the addition of advanced-degree programs in Speech-Language Pathology, Health Executive Leadership, Occupational Therapy and Health Information Management, enrollment is projected to rise as much as 40 percent, to around 2,300 by 2016. This fall's entering nursing class will be the largest in JU's history: 67 new students are signed up, for a total of 260 total pre-licensure undergraduates, an increase from 235 in fall 2012. In addition, JU has more than 1,100 online nursing students, and more than 150 graduate nursing students.

JU partners with area providers such as Baptist, Mayo Clinic, Brooks, St. Vincent's, Flagler Hospital, Wolfson and Nemours to provide hands-on training to JU students and also on-site education to these partners' employees.

Christine Sapienza, who starts July 1 as associate dean of the College of Health Sciences and will roll out JU's new speech-language pathology advanced-degree programs, noted that the new space and multi-media classrooms mean JU's new Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders will be positioned to offer the most rigorous curriculum in the area.

"We will teach a continuum of care, from prevention to rehabilitation, and from infants to our aging population," said Sapienza, a national leader in her field and chair for the past eight years of the University of Florida's highly ranked department of Speech, Language and Hearing Sciences. "Together with our partner Brooks Rehabilitation, we will provide the faculty, resources and on-site and distance learning options to meet the needs of providers in this important field."

Historically, JU has fed high-quality job candidates into the region, who stay in the area in high numbers, at high-paying jobs. JU's first doctoral class (Doctor of Nursing Practice) began in fall 2011. Its nursing graduates had a 98.65 percent passing rate on the state nursing licensure examination in 2012 (with a 100 percent pass rate for the last two cycles), and its Emergency Nurse Practitioner program is one of just five in the United States.

With the addition in the next several years of two health professional degrees (Speech-Language Pathology and Occupational Therapy) and two health administration programs (Health Executive Leadership and Health Information Management), JU will need additional laboratory and class space devoted solely to these students and faculty.

Buchra Watfa, who came to the U.S. from Syria in 2001 at age 15, received her BSN from JU in 2011 and now works at St. Vincent's in the critical care area. She said the caring faculty at JU always emphasized that students should take steps forward in their learning - something she plans to do in the future with more education in the College of Health Sciences.

"This expansion should make a difference in JU's life and in Jacksonville's," said Watfa, who was chosen by faculty at her graduation to receive the prestigious "Director's Award" given to outstanding students. "This is so important to the area, and I'm so thankful for this."

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